Sensitivity. Nothing irks me as much as a violation of human rights.

Sunday, February 05, 2012

My Website

Hi all

I have opened a website Henceforth, this site will serve as my blog, my place, the source for all my work. You will find this site better organised and more accessible.

As of today, the blog Rebel in a Teacup remains closed. I have had some great moments with this blog and feel a bit sad. But I will keep this blog open as long as possible, if not for anything else at least to revisit older blogs, just to chide myself for my naivety and vanity.

- Sridhar

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

The Hindu : Opinion / Editorial : A national shame

The Hindu : Opinion / Editorial : A national shame

Thursday, January 19, 2012

That Nasty Thing Called Freedom

Should Salman Rushdie be allowed to visit India? Of course not. Rushdie had insulted the Prophet and blasphemed Islam and therefore he has no place in India. Remember we didn’t allow M F Husain to live in his country? But don’t mistake us. We are a people who love freedom of expression. But this freedom should not be construed as a mud that you can keep on slinging at another. As the saying goes, ‘the right to swing your fist ends where the other man’s nose begins.’ Well, India is, you know, too crowded and therefore people are too close to each other to even move one's fist. Hence, such insults are not tolerated. 

That too, Rushdie had blasphemed against one of the most oppressed communities in India. They also have something more valuable today: votes. With UP going to polls in a couple of months, with the largest minority determining who is going to be the next Chief Minister of the largest Indian state, Rushdie's visit is a fly in the ointment. Well, actually not, it is manna from the Heaven. By preventing his visit, we can win some brownie points from the most oppressed community. Those jobless people screaming about freedom won’t last more than a week. After all, who is talking about Tasleema Nasreen now? Or M F Husain? Or that book from Rohinton Mistry that was banned from Bombay University? These ‘freedom lovers’ will cry for some time and then go back to their day jobs.

If we allow these people some room, they will become uncontrollable. Look what happened to the Internet. Anybody can write any junk. Look at Sonia Gandhi: how much she has sacrificed for our country. Instead of lauding this beloved leader, the netizens are denouncing her by caricaturing in the most offensive way.

That’s why even our courts are agitated. ‘We should learn from China,’ one of the judges roared at Google and Facebook. ‘On how to censor the Web.’ Well said! There is not a single country in comparison to China, so our court’s example is the most apt to be followed. I’m sure our leaders and governments will be happy to learn from China.

In China you cannot google anything; because there is no Google. Instead of helping the Chinese government with their censorship requests, Google decided to pack their bags and leave the country. The nerve! That itself should have sent the signals to our Indian government that Google is only interested in the offensive. So in China, you have to use their local search engine, Baidu. When you use Baidu, you can’t search the strings ‘Tianenmen Square’, ‘June 4’*, ‘Tibet Exile Government’, ‘Dalai Lama’, ‘Pro-Democracy protests’, etc. These search results will take you to unrelated pages. In China, you cannot read about the Great Leap Forward of 1959-62 when more than 40 million people were killed in a man-made famine caused by Mao Zedong. The English and Chinese Wikipedia pages related to these topics are blocked. The world-renowned painter and sculptor Ai Weiwei was arrested for writing and speaking against the government. Serves him right! Many more pro-democracy protesters go ‘missing’, never to be found again. Not even in the Web.

Yes, this is the kind of censorship we need. We should learn this from China. Our courts should direct our government to send an expert committee to China to learn how they implement this level of censorship, because Google and Facebook keep offering lame excuses such as Web being vast and human intervention being impossible. Then how does China do it?

The Supreme Court should ban Google in India and invite Baidu to set up their servers. Like China have their favourite keywords, we too have many, all of which should be blocked. Undoubtedly, Baidu will be more than happy to comply. They may not even have to write new code. They can use their existing programmes and simply replace the keywords. I can give my suggestions but I’m sure there’ll be more. These are the nasty, irritants to our society.

My suggestions:
  • Commonwealth Games
  • 2G Spectrum
  • Adarsh Building Society
  • Bofors
  • Ottavio Quattrocchi
  • Robert Vadra’s businesses
  • Robert Vadra’s family problems
  • Anti-Sikh riots of Delhi
  • Gujarat Pogrom
  • Yediyurappa & Reddy Brothers
  • Illegal mining in Bellary
  • RSS and Bajrang Dal connection
  • Anna Hazare
  • Satanic Verses
  • M F Husain’s Hindu gods’ series
  • Arundhati Roy
Let us learn from China and arrest those who violate the codes. China ran tanks over their students. Let us do the same thing for anyone who dares to offend anyone else. If Salman Rushdie comes to India, he should be arrested. We can perhaps hang him. Or what does China do? Do they have electric chairs? Then we can perhaps import some chairs, no, we may need hundreds of chairs. As a symbolism, let us arrest Arundhati Roy, because she is already in India, and like Ai Weiwei she is well known, so it will become international news. The Guardian from London and The Washington Post will cry hoarse. Good.

Let the world know that we’re a good student of China. Let it be a warning to all future Rushdies and Husains. 

* - June 4th 1989 is the day the massacre of Tianenmen Square took place where the army ran tanks over their own, peacefully protesting, citizens (students).

Thursday, December 01, 2011

I have had a few counter-arguments to my story on FDI in Retail, through emails and Facebook and they did make reasonable points. I had intended to write another fact-based article but found the following column written by CP Chandrasekar, Professor of Economics at Jawaharlal Nehru University. I thought I'll simply add that link so that you can read the horse's voice.

The Retail Counter-Revolution

by C P Chandrasekhar


Sunday, November 27, 2011

Retail FDI – A Story of The Future

There’s an old lady who comes carrying a bamboo basket full of spinach to Triplicane streets, calling out ‘keeré’, ‘keeré’ in feeble cry. ‘Keeré’ is Tamil for spinach so the word may be different from where you’re coming from. This lady is 85-year old and has more wrinkles on her than an alligator. She has two sons, one was a watchman in an apartment in upmarket Adyar and the other works for the Municipality. She had to work at that age because neither of them supports her. She gets the spinach from a middleman who deals in the local market. She tries to sell as many bunches as posisble and, at the end of the day, returns the unsold ones, pays him for the sold ones and keeps the balance. The midldeman is an evil operator and takes a huge cut from her profit.

One rough estimate stated that there are about 40 million people working in unsecured, unorganised private sector in India. These are the people you see working in your local ‘kirana’ store or ‘provisions’ store; the girl who packs your groceries in the neighbourhood market, the boy who serves your tea in the tea stall after or before your grocery shopping. You do screw your eyes every time you go into these markets. Because these people are not well dressed. And they are also noisy and messy. It is much worse especially because you had been to Singapore or Western Europe or the US. You had seen swanky supermarkets. They had shiny vegetables with ‘Date Packed’ and ‘Best Before’ labels, and neatly arranged and attractively packaged groceries with nutritional information and warnings (‘May Contain Nuts’). In your local kirana store, the pulses used to be wrapped in old newspapers. Today some stores have upgraded to green and black polythene bags, the variety that Greenspace frowns upon.

Then Tesco, Waitrose, Walmart or 7Eleven come to India. They are retail majors in the UK, Europe and the US. They ensure that the display is done as nicely as their countries of origin. They put up nutritional, allergy and expiry information labels. The staff wear tie and smile at you affectionately. The shops are clean and quiet and what’s more, soothing songs of Susan Boyle waft from the overhead speakers to enhance your shopping experience.

The farmers are able to sell their produce to these companies directly without a need for middlemen like the one who used to fleece the spinach selling lady. The benefits of the money saved in these commisions are passed onto the consumer thereby reducing the retail price, which immediately control the inflation.

In the UK (and probably elsewhere too) these retail majors have supermarkets that are huge and also small street corner versions. To replicate this model, these companies buy the provision stores and vegetable vendors that are dominant in each of the major areas and convert them into their local versions. Soon, this leads to closure of all other local, non-branded, vendors in the area. This cleans up the mess created by these local vendors and improves the look of your neighbourhood.

The prices are low, neighbourhboods are beautiful, products come in nice packages, farmers are happy and the consumers are super happy. Hence they all live happily.
Then, unlike in fairy tales, in real life, the story continues after the happy ending.

The retail majors had signed contracts with the farmers to sell their produce wholesale to them. Once the farmers become dependent on them, they are armtwisted to reduce the price. The farmers, having no other alternative, reduce the price and in turn cut corners in their agricultural labour to save their margins. And those who couldn’t manage the new price regime follow their usual route – hang themselves and become part of the statistics on farmers’ suicide.

This time, the benefits of the price reduction are not passed onto the consumer. Once the market is completely taken over by them, these majors form a cartel and decide the price of everything, from milk to rice. There are regulations in the UK and Europe against competitors contacting each other or setting up cartels. There are no such regulations in India and there are already cartels existing for other businesses. This practice effectively freezes price reduction and slowly the prices of all products rise, inexorably, to a few paise here, to a few rupees there, and rise to the extent where it starts to pinch the middle-class and strangle those below them.

At this stage, there is no option of resorting to local vendors because, somewhere in between the story, they had all vanished. We did not know when or where because we didn’t notice them disappearing. But they are effectively people; all 40 million of them or more, so they could not have gone into thin air. But yes, soon we hear them. We would not have noticed them going but their return is loud and noisy. Thrown out of the cities, devoid of their meagre livelihood, they were left in the lurch. This is no welfare state so they don’t get any unemployment benefits. And they can’t learn Java or SAP and get into Infosys. They will, however, have an ever-willing employer: The Maoists. This employer was already busy recruiting tribals across central and eastern India where the aggressive and indifferent mining business was throwing them off their forests and mountains. Still, the Maoism remained a minor and local phenomenon. Now, with 40 million potential recruits, their cadres swell into disproportionate strength. What was happening only in the jungles of Chattisgarh and mountains of Orissa now become a huge, uncontrollable phenomenon in the plains.

The middle-class does not understand the Maoists and wonder why they have to fight, and why they can’t study and get a decent job in TCS like their sons or daughters. They look to government to protect them. The government, however, look to the army and, consequently, what used to be the local phenomenon in Kashmir become the norm in the rest of India – the iron hand of the army.

Somewhere in between the story, the old lady who used to sell spinach didn’t understand why her dealer went out of business and why she couldn’t procure spinach for selling. She tried to sell some other odd stuff with no buyer. Desperate, she sat in front of one of the temples to become a beggar. A visit by the US president led to the state government forcibly vacating all the beggars from the locality and she was sent out of the city. She stayed under a bus stand for three days without food and died on the platform. Two days later, the body was collected by the municipality lorry.

Tuesday, October 04, 2011

Bhatt vs. Modi

Whistleblowers have a sort of reputation in our country. They are the new age Neros who play the fiddle after the Rome has burnt down. They pick up personal fights or sign into the payrolls of newer vendetta masters.

On the scale of whistleblowers, Sanjeev Bhatt of Gujarat must be carrying the feeblest whistle in the world. It is so weak that we heard the sound only ten years later. Why hadn’t he blown it in 2001 or 2 or 3 or 4 has not been asked by many people.

Probably because they all know the answer. There may have been hundreds of reasons, from coercion to ‘settlements’. Our politicians possess panoply of weapons, all of which must have been busy at work during the last ten years. BJP must be ‘supplying’ all the necessary nutrients to keep the Bhatt engine from roaring. Then why was Congress keeping quiet? A safe speculation is that that they would not have been aware of the presence of Bhatt. Having come to know of it recently, they would have offered a better bait and the IPS officer would have fallen for it.

Now, how does it matter?

It shouldn’t actually. Except for some moral definition of the term. According to Oxford dictionary a whistle-blower is some one 'who informs on someone engaged in illicit activity.' which means a person ‘blows a whistle’ because he or she is unable to bear an injustice, meaning 'when the injustice happens'. Per this definition, Bhatt isn’t a whistleblower. If he was really concerned about the victims and cared for them, he would not be cooling his heels for ten years. So it is safe to assume that he is someone who just changed his employer. And political employers are not the ones who would forget the disloyalty of their past employees. Bhatt got arrested now.

I think that’s precisely what is happening in this case. All evidences are pointing to the conclusion that Bhatt is basically a selfish crook who just changed sides and now paying the price for the same. The cupboard of his past too seems to be bustling with skeletons.

Unfortunately, it is hardly going to affect him, personally or otherwise. Employees come and go but it is the companies that will have to worry about their image. Modi’s image, already at its lowest ebb, has taken another major beating here. His three-day fast has done precious little to his declining image. Arresting a crook IPS officer isn’t going to add much to the scoreboard. He may win Gujarat again and may even remain its Chief Minister until his death but BJP’s potential Prime Ministerial candidate isn’t doing anything to earn it and doing everything to jeopardise it. At this rate, the BJP is not going to get any allies in the South and some of their key allies in the North too may desert them. Congress has already started propping up Rahul Gandhi and started to iron out their internal differences. Congress may just end up winning the next election, despite 2G, CWG, Adarsh, Black Money, terrorism, price rise, and an effete Prime Minister!

And if that happens, the credit will largely go to Modi.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Do You Not Hate Her?

She will easily be the most hated public figure in India. And she’s not a politician. No, she is not one of those wooden actresses of Bombay. Well, she was not the TV anchor who colluded with the powers-that-be to lobby for cabinet berths. She is just a writer; and also an activist. The only problem with her is she does something which nobody else dares. She speaks for the poorest of the poor, in Franz Fanon’s words ‘the wretched of the earth.’ That’s all she does. But nobody is ardently hated and on nobody such venom has been spewed in India as this person.

No prices for guessing because chances are you hate her too. But have you ever thought why? I hate her too. For the same reason that you do too. That’s because she makes us feel uncomfortable. She makes us, the indifferent, insouciant middle-class into villains. She defecates on us.

Does she have the right to do that? That’s not a clear no because, we get the treatment from her what we do to the ‘wretched’ of India. We treat them like our own excrement. And she, on their behalf, returns the favour.

So is there any wonder that she thinks this way about Anna Hazare’s movement, the one propelled by the supposedly angry middle-class and propped up by the propaganda arm of the middle-class, the media?

If you have got the guts, read what she says here.